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A Deadly Shade of Green: Threats to Environmental Human Rights Defenders in Latin America

By staff - Center for International Environmental Law, et. al., Summer 2016

On 3 March 2016, a wave of indignation and repudiation swept the world, condemning the brutal and cowardly assassination of Berta Cáceres, a Honduran environmental activist and community leader who inspired thousands of people through her work promoting the rights of the Lenca people.

Her death came amid a growing number of attacks against human rights defenders, particularly campaigners peacefully defending the environment, the right to land and the rights of indigenous peoples. This situation is not limited to Honduras, but can be seen throughout the continent, in Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Mexico, Guatemala, and Ecuador. This long list is being added to by an increasing number of countries that seem willing to put economic interests before those of people and territories. Reports from numerous organizations confirm a steady deterioration of the situation, highlighting the fact that Latin America has become the most dangerous region in the world for environmental activists.

Various types of attack have been committed against campaigners and their organizations. They range from surveillance campaigns, harassment, and being discredited in the media and social networks, to physical assaults, acts of torture, enforced disappearances and assassinations. In addition, there is widespread corruption and impunity in many countries where relations between state and non-state actors are often ambiguous. We should note, in particular, the attacks against female human rights defenders, who face threats of sexual violence and smear campaigns based on their gender. All of this is exacerbated by the context of increasing criminalization of social protest, and use of the law to suppress dissent in Latin American and Caribbean societies.

Despite the grim outlook, there are reasons to remain optimistic. Civil society has never looked so strong, organized and determined. International solidarity strengthened by the globalization of exchanges between people and organizations makes it possible to bring these struggles out of isolation, and demand accountability to ensure the effective implementation of human rights commitments.

Read the report (EN PDF) | (ES PDF).

Protests against Peru’s Tia Maria Mine and International Solidarity

By James Jordan - People's World, June 11, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

What does it take to stop a transnational corporate giant in its tracks when it threatens workers, farmers and communities? The people of Arequipa, Peru have an answer.

Unionists, rural workers, popular movements, and environmentalists are coming together in this region of southern Peru to halt the proposed Tia Maria copper mine. The mine project belongs to Southern Copper Corporation, a subsidiary of Grupo Mexico.

Mine opponents are demanding respect for workers rights, community democracy and involvement in development decisions and protection for the ecosystem and rural farmers. Tia Maria would be a large pit mine projected to have a 20 year life span. Protesters are concerned about the likelihood of contamination of the region's water supply.

The federal government has declared martial law and sent troops into the region. It has also called for a 60-day pause in mine development.

Police forces are under contract with Southern Copper to protect the mine, which places in question their commitment to public safety. So far three protesters have been killed in demonstrations against the mine, and more than 200 have been wounded.

Peru's Tia Maria Mining Conflict: Another Mega Imposition

By Lynda Sullivan - Upside Down World, June 10, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Peru has been rocked once again by a social conflict which pits the government, looking out for the economic interests of a multinational corporation, against its people. The Tia Maria Mine, an open-pit project of Southern Copper Corporation, controlled by Grupo Mexico, is the latest attempted imposition of a destructive mega-project by big business on rural communities in the interior of the country. To date, the conflict has claimed eight lives: four in 2011 and four more since April of this year. The affected communities have been on an indefinite strike since March 23rd and, as a response, President Ollanta Humala has called a state of emergency, permitting the Armed Forces and the National Police to violate the constitutional rights of the local population in the hope that repression will breed consent. However, the threatened farmers say that they will fight to the end, and the company, making use of the red carpet set down by the Peruvian state, also does not appear to be giving up on its 1.4 billion dollar investment anytime soon.

The conflict dates back to 2009, when the company first produced its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of Tia Maria, a copper extraction project hoping to mine 120 thousand tons of copper cathodes per year during its 18 year life span. It would be situated in the district of Cocachacra, though its effects would also reach the districts of Punta del Bombón, Deán Valdivia and Mejía, regions all belonging to the province of Islay, in the department of Arequipa. The most sensitive and threatened area is the Tambo Valley, which is considered the 'larder' of the Arequipa region, and wider afield. Ninety-seven percent of its agricultural produce and eighty-eight percent of its fishing catch goes to feeding the south of the country. The valley employs more than 15 thousand families and produces a profit of around 320 million soles a year (roughly $100 million) [1].

Tia Maria would consist of two open pits; the largest of which, La Tapada, would be situated just 2.4 km from the Tambo Valley. The second, sharing the name of Tia Maria, would be just 1 km further [2]. The subterranean waters that are connected to the Tambo River would pass just 250 meters from the open pits. The communities along the Tambo Valley, on seeing the project’s dangerous proximity to their fertile lands, formed the Tambo Valley Defense Front, a platform on which to project their voice. In October 2009 the Defense Front lead a popular consultation in the districts of Cocachacra, Punta del Bombón and Deán Valdivia, resulting in an overwhelming rejection of the project with 93.4% voting against it [3].

EcoUnionist News #33

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, February 15, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

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Peru Passes a Packet of Neoliberal Reforms, Erodes Environmental Protections and Labor Rights

By Lynda Sullivan - Upsidedown World, July 25, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The Peruvian Congress approved a packet of laws on July 3 which critics say subjects the country to neoliberal reforms that threaten to undermine environmental and labor protections and is a gift to the extractive industry.

The Minister of Economy and Finance Luis Miguel Castilla first presented to Congress on this packet of laws on June 25 in order for them to be debated and approved. This has led to an outcry by civil society,[1] as many have compared this law bundle to the neoliberal ‘paquetazos’ of the 1980s and 90s by the previous governments of Alan Garcia and Alberto Fujimori governments. President Ollanta Humala rejects this criticism.[2]

The term ‘paquetazo’ refers to a large bundle of laws supposedly aimed at reinvigorating the economy. In the days of the Garcia and Fujimori governments, the introduction of these paquetazos usually lead to hyperinflation, currency devaluation, extreme price hikes, and an increase in social conflicts and police repression.[3] President Humala’s current attempt to reinvigorate the economy centers round removing any obstacles for investing companies (mainly in the extractive industries), which critics say will irreversibly damage the environment and fuel more social unrest.

Despite the outcries and protests, the packet was approved with surprising ease.[4] Two of the few congress members to vote against the package were Verónika Mendoza and Rosa Mavila. Mendoza pleaded that, minimally, the chapter on the theme of the environment should be debated, revised, and corrected by the Commission of Indigenous People and the Environment. Mavila opposed the chapter on the environment and the rest of the reforms, because “it is a vision of total guarantee for extractive capitalism and nothing for the Peruvians, nothing for the people, and nothing for the workers.”[5]

Alliance for Global Justice Statement on the Detention of Gregorio “Goyo” Santos, President of the Region of Cajamarca, Peru

Press Release - Alliance for Global Justice, June 30, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The Alliance for Global Justice (AfGJ) condemns the preventive incarceration of Gregorio “Goyo” Santos Guerrero, President of the Region of Cajamarca, Peru (analogous to a US governor). Goyo’s election in 2010 was the result of a mass mobilization of the region’s voters. It reflected a popular struggle against the proposed Conga gold mine involving an alliance of miners, teachers, farmers, unionists and indigenous communities. These maintain the gold mine will export not only gold but mega-profits, with little social investment or sustainable economic development. They also point out that the mine’s best jobs are being given to outsiders, while there are few local financial benefits. Cajamarca is the second poorest region in Peru. The Conga mine is a collaboration between the Denver-based Newmont Mining Corporation, Buenaventura (Peru) and the International Monetary Fund. Newmont holds a 51.35% controlling interest.

The Conga mine is an expansion of the twenty year old Yanacocha mine, Latin America’s largest gold mine. That mine has already had devastating consequences for the local ecosystem and residents. The Yanacocha mine completely dried up an ancient lake and decimated and polluted the main water supply leading into the capital city of Cajamarca. In 2000 the spill of more than 330 pounds of mercury being carried by Yanacocha trucks poisoned over 900 residents of Choropampa, leaving behind a legacy of death, sickness and deformity. The Conga project would be three times the size of Yanacocha and threatens the system of highland lakes and waterways that are the area’s main source of irrigation for local farms and drinking water for hundreds of thousands of residents.

Goyo was elected because of his outspoken opposition to the Conga project, and because of his proposals in favor of diversified economic development and funding human needs. Since assuming office, he has not wavered in these priorities and has used his position to strengthen the struggle in the streets. This struggle has caused repeated setbacks for Conga and has impeded the mine’s construction. As an alternative, Goyo has proposed investment in sustainable farming and aquaculture, agro-industrial capabilities, and eco-tourism. For this he has been the victim of a steady stream of slanders and attacks on the part of the national government, Newmont and its partners, and the corporate media. Since 2011, Goyo has been the target of 38 prosecution cases. Of these, 35 have already been dismissed due to lack of evidence.

Goyo is now being charged with taking bribes in exchange for 11 public works contracts. No evidence for this has been made public by prosecutors. Meanwhile, Goyo is in the midst of his reelection campaign. The assertion that Goyo represents a flight risk is ridiculous. This detention is clearly a political ploy to stop his campaign and undermine the will of the people.

Indigenous protesters occupy Peru's biggest Amazon oil field - Around 500 Achuar protesters are demanding the clean-up of decades of contamination from spilled crude oil

By Dan Collyns - The Gaurdian, April 25, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Around 500 Achuar indigenous protesters have occupied Peru’s biggest oil field in the Amazon rainforest near Ecuador to demand the clean-up of decades of contamination from spilled crude oil.

The oilfield operator, Argentine Pluspetrol, said output had fallen by 70% since the protesters occupied its facilities on Monday – a production drop of around 11,000 barrels per day.

Native communities have taken control of a thermoelectric plant, oil tanks and key roads in the Amazonian region of Loreto, where Pluspetrol operates block 1-AB, the company said on Thursday.

Protest leader, Carlos Sandi, told the Guardian that Achuar communities were being “silently poisoned” because the company Pluspetrol has not complied with a 2006 agreement to clean up pollution dating back four decades in oil block 1-AB.

“Almost 80% of our population are sick due to the presence of lead and cadmium in our food and water form the oil contamination,” said Sandi, president of FECONACO, the federation of native communities in the Corrientes River.

Pluspetrol, the biggest oil and natural gas producer in Peru, has operated the oil fields since 2001. It took over from Occidental Petroleum, which began drilling in 1971, and, according to the government, had not cleaned up contamination either.

Last year, Peru declared an environmental state of emergency in the oil field.

But Sandi said the state had failed to take “concrete measures or compensate the native people” for the environmental damage caused.

Read the rest of the article here.

INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY WITH CAJAMARCA - UNITARY STATEMENT

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

A media campaign has been launched recently in Peru against the international solidarity movement with the people of Cajamarca (northern Andes of Peru) in peaceful struggle since three years, in defense of water and the environment against the mining megaproject "Conga" by Yanacocha (transnational company associating Newmont, Buenaventura and the World Bank).

This proposed open pit mining will destroy five mountain lakes, 700 springs and 260 hectares of wetlands. This is a direct threat to the health, live of people and environment of this important agricultural region of Peru and will contaminate the entire water system downstream on both Pacific and Amazonian slopes, impacting thousands of people.

For three years, affected populations resisted peacefully. The response of the authorities has been repression: in July 2012, five people were killed and fifty wounded by bullets. Indignation caused by this wave of violence stood the entire population of this Andean region and prompted a movement of national and international solidarity.

The megaproject "Conga" was officially discontinued in August 2012.

Today, all democratic associations, social organizations, workers unions and foreign personalities who expressed indignation and solidarity with Cajamarca, and whose humanitarian objectives cannot be doubted, are the subject of a smear campaign launched in the Peruvian press.

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